Unnatural by Joanna Chambers ~ Book Review by Lirtle

unnatural-cover-1Title: Unnatural

Author: Joanna Chambers

Publisher: Samhain

Cover Artist: Gabrielle Prendergast

Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars

Publication Date: 11/24/2015

Length: Novel (~ 50K-100K)

Genre: Drama, Fiction, Gay, Gay Fiction, Historical, Regency


The heart breaks but does not change.

An Enlightenment story.

Captain Iain Sinclair. Perfect son, perfect soldier, hero of Waterloo. A man living a lie. The only person who really knows him is his childhood friend, scientist James Hart. But they’ve been estranged since Iain brutally destroyed their friendship following a passionate encounter.

Iain is poised to leave the King’s service to become an undercover agent in India. Before he leaves his old life behind, he’s determined to reconcile with James. An invitation to a country house party from James’s sister provides the perfect opportunity to pin the man down.

James has loved Iain all his life, but his years of accepting crumbs from Iain’s table are over. Forgiving Iain is one thing—restoring their friendship is quite another.

In the face of James’s determined resistance, Iain is forced to confront his reasons for mending the wounds between them. And accept the possibility that James holds the key to his heart’s desire—if only he has the courage to reach for it.

My View:

It wasn’t that he begrudged his hosts their happiness. No, the melancholy was all on his own account. It seemed he had a hitherto unacknowledged self-pitying streak that made witnessing their contentment strangely painful.

This gives you a good idea of Iain’s mental and emotional states as this story begins. This also shows that Chambers is on her game with her ability to get to the heart of the matter. And emotion. It opened the gates to connection for me, as well.

Having read Chambers’ Enlightenment series and related short stories, I’d come in contact with Iain previously. He was to go on and surprise me, though, throughout this story because here’s the thing: he’s somewhat selfish, or at the very least unaware of his effects on people around him, particularly those who care about him, like his family (some of them) and James. A scene early on had me nearly tearing my hair out and rolling my eyes, at the same time. That’s almost like trying to rub your tummy with one hand and the top of your head with the other, at the same time. I completely understood the other characters and their reactions towards good ol’ Iain.

Of course, there’s a flipside. There’s always another side. Iain has experienced a good bit of life. One major incident, or ongoing string of incidents, goes a long way to explaining some of his decisions.

For James’ part, he’s rightfully been living his life without Iain in it. (Yeah, ya see? There’s the rub! Git your head outa the sand, Iain.) James is intelligent, loving, and determined. He’s not just book smart but emotionally intelligent. I don’t blame him one stinkin’ iota for the way he comports himself through much of this story.

Now. These two have been close friends (no double entendre) since they were very young. Chambers does well in slowly revealing the history twixt Iain and James, taking us back and forth between it and the present day. Could this history, this once solid base of a friendship, be the thing that turns everything around, salvaging said friendship? The first half of the book feels like it’s attempting to answer this all-important question. It’s a study in friendship. I kinda relished that, I must say. The power struggle, even when neither of them realizes that’s what it is, the power they have in affecting each other’s lives. How easily a smile can break open on your face. How quickly someone can pierce your heart, twisting the blade they didn’t even know they were wielding.

All of this is James for Iain and Iain for James.

The second half of the book is a bit more unevenly told for me. The settings and emotions and forward progress are all there. The detail is scrumptious, never really feeling overdone. It just felt like we went to the well once too often regarding some conflicts and their possible resolutions. These same resolutions that often faced coitus interruptus, the connections I’d made with the characters suffering because of it. The momentum that had been building, rolling naturally through the peaks and valleys, suffered because of it.

Now, was this insurmountable, an unhealable wound? Not in the slightest. I mean, we’re talking about Chambers’ writing and it’s as close to impeccable as writing can ever hope to be. I love her word choices and combinations, and her dialogue flows along naturally and feels appropriate in all scenes. Even during these dry spells I described above, I enjoyed reading her words for what they are, like a leisurely Sunday drive down a sunny country rode.

He’d touched his own mouth as he lay in bed in the darkness, trying to summon up a better memory of the press of Jamie’s lips and the sweet sweep of his tongue, but the physical sensation had been translated in his memory into something more elusive and ephemeral – something that could stir but never satisfy.

It’s ok, I’ll give you a moment to melt and then gather yourself. G’head.

Better now? Ok, good. 😉

The sense of history is heavy in this story. The trappings of life for those that lived in the upper echelons and how they specifically impacted gay men, and the added stresses they had to carry around and deal with, constantly, were just as constant a companion during my reading of this book. Difficult is an understatement, and James and Iain are living under these inescapable constraints. Sometimes it felt like the settings were stealing the spotlight from James and Iain, but most of the time they were that weight that could not be chucked aside, ever, always informing their actions and reactions.

Of course, this long journey has its rewards, fear not. Some of them are clever and robust. James himself speaks volumes in a single comment:

”What are yesterday’s heresies but tomorrow’s orthodoxies?”

If I could, I’d give James a high-five for that.

This is gorgeously written. It’s a wonderful depiction of two people struggling a great deal in order to be themselves and live the love they have for each other. A few stretches were overbaked, going to that well one time too many. The characters are complex and complete, with unexpected idiosyncrasies and understandable issues. I know I’d love to spend more time with them, witnessing their future. If you enjoy or want to try a somewhat angsty, beautifully detailed, heart-filled, painful, historical love story, this is dead center on your target.


Unnatural on Goodreads
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
All Romance eBooks

I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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2 thoughts on “Unnatural by Joanna Chambers ~ Book Review by Lirtle

  1. Hey Andrea. *waves*
    I enjoy that feeling, deciding to try a new-to-me author. It’s almost like a present, a surprise lol 😀

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